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Digital TV wherever you go

First INQpressions LeadTek WinFast DTV Dongle
Wed Dec 20 2006, 11:12
IF YOU VISIT the Computex trade show in Taipei, you'll see that the market of TV tuners certainly has more players than the world of graphics card or motherboard manufacturers, perhaps equalled only by number keyboard manufacturers. There are tens, if not hundreds of small companies from mainland China and Taiwan who are manufacturing devices of somewhat questionable quality, shipped with generic drivers that work in so-so mode.

On the other side, there are known manufacturers such as AVerMedia, Hauppauge, LeadTek - those manufacturers spend a fair sum of money in order to get decent software bundled with their products. It's the software, not hardware that makes the difference between usable and unusable products.

TV in a mobile package
USB stick, expandable antenna and a flat remote

The boom of the notebook segment means it's time for the accessories industry to wake up. While you may own the very best PCI TV tuner card, the sad fact is that you can forget about using it on your notebook. The idea behind this device is to offer you DVB-T coverage on a notebook. Unsurprisingly, LeadTek opted to go with a long USB stick design. Kudos to LeadTek for making such a small, yet efficiently designed DVB-T packed tuner, and the design concept went so well, their product site now features logo from the International Design Forum (iF).

Hardware-wise, this baby can support PiP (Picture-in-Picture), PoP (Picture-out-Picture) and PaP (Picture-and-Picture) modes, Time Shifting and EPG. Sadly, teletext is not supported, which should be normal - but sadly, many countries still predominantly use teletext service. The DTV Dongle comes with WinFast DTV software, Ulead VideoStudio 9.0, Ulead DVDMovieFactory 4.0, Ulead Cool3D 3.0 and the venerable CyberLink PowerDVD 6.0.

Always turn the hardware acceleration on. It helps even on systems with integrated graphics...

As you can see above, the software is very neatly designed, tucked inside the main window. Options are not in abundance, there is just the right amount of configuration for a USB product. The other provided software is pretty common in retail packages, so we won't go in depth here but if you need it, it works.

We have tested the DVB-T stick on two opposite sides of the available computing power. On one side, we have INQtest machine #2, consisting of the following:

Intel Pentium EE955 3.46 GHz
Zalman CNPS7000-Cu
Intel D975XBX2 "Bad Axe 2"
2GB A-DATA Vitesta EE DDR2-1066
Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX 256MB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 250GB x2
Plextor PX-760A
Tagan EasyCon 580W PSU
Zboard WoW Edition
Logitech MX-510

On the other side of the hardware fence is the Samsung Q30Plus, a 12.1" sub-notebook, which consists of an Intel Pentium ULV 1.20 GHz CPU and 512MB of DDR2-533 memory. When you compare performance, it is pretty much chalk and cheese here.

Married with Children looks too good on DVB-T signal... luckily, there's always PoP option

Installation of the WinTV software went without a hitch. Setting up the channels is pretty much a walk-in-the-park experience. LeadTek claims it can finish fast channel search in only 26 seconds, but we would recommend you to do a full channel search. In our case, it took around minute and a half and it discovered all channels it could.

The testing itself comprised of measuring the CPU load while running the DTV stick. We were impressed with the EE955 performance right away, since CPU utilization didn't pass the 8% mark regardless of our testing, which includes running all supported features. Stuttering did not occur even after switching both channels while one was doing the time shift. There was zero visible difference between hardware acceleration "on" and "off".

We had some severe reservations about the performance of this stick on a notebook equipped with only 512MB of system memory and a Dothan CPU clocked at 1.2 GHz. But the DTV Dongle passed with flying colours, even though the CPU was at 85-100% utilisation, we experienced zero stuttering or picture breakups, which goes to show that you do not need an Extreme Edition CPU to have quality TV. Well okay, I know that quality TV is a oxymoron, but you know what I mean. Seeing PiP on a notebook was pretty nice.

The only negative note we have to say is that the WinFast DTV Dongle will heat up considerably during operation. It will not burn your hand, but you can expect that nice and really warm feeling. Given the amount of space this TV-stick takes, lack of ways to dissipate the heat is pretty understandable.

Besides regular desktop testing, we tried this device while riding in a car. Don't worry, I wasn't at the steering wheel while trying to get the signal, I may be crazy, but not stupid. We got mixed results, the antenna on the opening picture can expand by three times the size, but we feel this is still not enough for a DVB-T signal, which requires a pretty good signal, not the one you will get in the car. This antenna showed perfect reproduction during driving in town, and was the same case on the open road, until we got to around 30 kilometers from the TV station's antennas at which point the picture became choppy and the sound started to stutter when we passed the 37km mark. The Ssgnal finally died out 41km from the TV station, which only speaks of great length by one very small antenna.

However, when you are at your home I would recommend without it any doubt, using an external antenna or the internal building antenna system. TV reproduction is great then and recording videos go without a hitch.

We feel that this feature deserved some special attention, since the software enables you to record the TV programme into program (.avi) or DVD format (.ts) right away, so creation of DVDs is pretty much no problem. What brings us to mention the recording function is the fact that this is the first device I've tested that can record every frame on my notebook, so no dropped frames. Recorded DVDs with TV series caught on the trusty 1.2GHz CPU were the same as the one I caught using the far more powerful desktop machine.

In short
We had an extremely pleasant experience with this product. First of all, the software worked flawlessly and the ability to timeshift while having PiP/PoP/PaP mode active without a loss of performance, at least on our desktop machine, certainly shows promise. LeadTek's engineers did their job without a hitch, and we can freely recommend this product. However, on some markets, Eastern Europe in particular, EPG is sadly a thing of future, as is IPTV and not supporting teletext might be considered as a minus.

WinFast DTV Dongle


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